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Nick Bhargava, Co-Founder of GROUNDFLOOR – Interview Series

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GROUNDFLOOR is an American real estate lending marketplace. It was the first real estate crowdfunding company to achieve SEC qualification utilizing Regulation A+ since the regulation became operable through the JOBS Act. GROUNDFLOOR was purposely built to serve self-directed investors instead of institutional ones

You’re both a director and one of the co-founders of GROUNDFLOOR. What was the inspiration behind launching this crowdfunding platform?

My co-founder, Brian Dally, had years of experience to make telecom services more accessible to everyday individuals. Meanwhile I had a lot of experience in the securities and regulatory industries. We wanted to combine our respective strengths in a way that opened up high yield investment opportunities for everyone, not just the 1 percent. We eventually started with single-family residential housing because most people are familiar with this kind of asset from being homeowners themselves.

When the idea was conceived, we had no idea if there would be a market for it. We needed to first find an accessible regulatory framework that would allow them to test the business concept. We discovered the Invest Georgia Exemption (IGE), created in 2011 to help small businesses access capital. Being an intrastate offering rule, it was only available for Georgia companies, so both of us picked up and moved to Atlanta to launch GROUNDFLOOR. Because of IGE, we were able to fund $2 million in loans in Georgia, clearly demonstrating the demand for GROUNDFLOOR’s platform.

Over time, GROUNDFLOOR has grown considerably and is now open to investors in all 50 states.

 

Can you explain how GROUNDFLOOR connects investors with real estate developers?

We are focused on providing retail investors with high yield investment opportunities. A real estate borrower, someone who develops real estate for a living, secures a loan through GROUNDFLOOR rather than a traditional bank or a hard money lender to finance a residential real estate project. That borrower submits a loan application, and we vet the individual and the project to determine if we should originate a loan. Our underwriting is based on past experiences, amount of skin in the game and many other factors. If approved, the loan is assigned a loan Grade of A through G and a corresponding rate where Grade A loans are the least risky, with the lowest rate of return and Grade G loans are most risky, with the highest rate of return.

We have filed an offering with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) through which we sell securities. The proceeds of these securities are used to fund the loans we originate. The performance of these securities and corresponding rate of return is tied to the underlying loan. Investors can choose which securities, and therefore, which underlying loans, they wish to invest in.

Investors can choose to invest up to $10 increments to fund the loan. Once a loan is fully funded, the borrower draws money according to a draw schedule, and completes the new construction, renovation or rehab project. The property is then typically listed for sale. When the project sells or is refinanced, which is usually 6-12 months from the time the investor invested, the loan is repaid. The investor’s principal investment, plus all accrued interest, is deposited into the investor’s GROUNDFLOOR Investor Account. The cash balance in an individual’s GROUNDFLOOR Investor Account can be withdrawn or reinvested in other projects.

 

Are there any types of restrictions or quality controls in place to ensure that real estate developers can repay the loans?

When the borrower submits the loan application, our underwriting team works closely to vet the projects and the borrower. We also factor in the local real estate market. We don’t lend in markets we don’t like. When a loan is originated, we stay in regular contact with the borrower to ensure that the project is meeting deadlines, and we share regular updates with investors. Draws are not given out if the borrower is not making sufficient progress or has deviated from plan. If we think there could be delays or the borrower violates terms of the agreement, we can decide to step in and proactively put the loan in default, which can result in a stronger outcome for the investor because we pass through penalty interest. Most GROUNDFLOOR loans are first lien position, so the loan is backed by a physical asset, which is the land and structure.

 

What are some of the types of returns that can be expected by investors?

For the past six years, participants in GROUNDFLOOR real estate loans have earned annualized returns averaging 10 to 12 percent in a 6 to 12 month timeframe.

 

Are all investments currently in the United States? Is there a preference for certain cities or states? If yes, could you describe these.

While anyone in the country can invest in GROUNDFLOOR with only $10, the company focuses its lending in 30 states.

 

You were an early advocate for the JOBS Act, were you happy with how the JOBS Act was written? Was there anything that should have been left out?

I am generally happy with how the act turned out. The different provisions are designed to help companies of different sizes, and each provides value for companies in different situations. I don’t think any particular provision should have been left out.

 

What would you like to see changed in a future version of the JOBS Act?

We have seen Reg. A be used heavily by real estate issuances. I think there is value beyond this use case, particularly for mid-sized privately held companies that want to access public market capital. The cap for Regulation A will soon change to $75M, which will be more appealing to companies of that size. I think we could see some novel offerings in that space.

 

Is there anything else that you would like to share about GROUNDFLOOR?

There is no other company that offers what GROUNDFLOOR does for individual investors and borrowers. We’ve created a new category and offer completely new products.

Why hasn’t anyone copied us? One reason is because regulatory innovation. Providing investments directly tied to this type of high quality, high yield real estate credit is not something that has been done for the retail investor. GROUNDFLOOR was the very first company qualified by the Securities & Exchange Commission to offer this type of investment via Reg A for non-accredited and accredited investors alike, and because of the enormous amount of infrastructure we put into place, we can continue to iterate on our product where others cannot.

I really enjoyed learning about your company, readers and/or investors who wishes to learn more may visit GROUNDFLOOR.

Antoine Tardif is the founding partner of Securities.io, the CEO of BlockVentures.com, and has invested in over 50 blockchain & AI projects. He is the founder of Unite.AI a news website for AI and Robotics. He is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council.

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